Govt makes ‘difficult decisions’ to delay spread of virus
The Gibraltar Government has made “difficult decisions” which will change how people live, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said today as further precautionary measures have been introduced in a bid to delay the spread of coronavirus.
The measures follow worldwide efforts to curb the spread of the virus that has seen rising cases detected in Europe.
The government announced the lottery has been suspended, people over 60 years old have been banned from using the bus, cash counters will close on Monday, and First Holy Communions have been cancelled as it outlined contingency plans.
Schools will remain open and the referendum is set to continue, but voters will be expected to stand a minimum of one metre from each other.
Mr Picardo, who is currently in London for meetings with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, stressed the measures are necessary to delay the “evitable” spread of Covid-19.
“We made these difficult decisions yesterday,” Mr Picardo said.
“They will change how we live our lives, but these are important changes to protect our elderly as we delay the inevitable spread of the virus. As soon as we are able to, we will resume all services as usual.”
Mr Picardo underscored that people should only believe information from credible sources.
This comes after a message stating erroneous facts on coronavirus contingency plans was shared online.
“After today's irresponsible WhatsApp message by an anonymous individual, I call on all the community not to trust any source of information other than the Government's official channels and the established media, that will invariably have checked with the Government before publishing item of news as fact,” he said.
The extended measures will be implemented to increase social distancing, the government said.
The purpose of these measures is to try to prevent the spread of the virus to the elderly and those with unstable chronic illnesses, who are at serious risk. “Slowing the spread even amongst those not at serious risk, but who might become sick with milder symptoms, will allow for Gibraltar to have as much resilience as possible in terms of resources and service provision,” the government said.
“These are exceptional measures in exceptional circumstances that are not taken lightly,” said the Minister for Public Health Dr John Cortes.
“The best advice from Public Health professionals is that the elderly and those with chronic health conditions should severely limit the amount of time they spend in public, only going out when absolutely necessary and avoiding peak times as much as possible.”
“It is up to the rest of us to do what we can to follow this advice and prevent the spread of infection to vulnerable groups, who may be our own friends and family members.”
The government has continued to work on resilience planning for the public sector, in event of a “worst case scenario” where large numbers of public sector staff become sick at one time.
“Measures currently being explored include the redeployment of staff to key areas and asking some members of staff to work from home where possible,” the government said in a statement.
“The Government strongly recommends against attending large gatherings including religious services and ceremonies, and social events, including nights out and events such as cinema screenings. Regular gym users, in particular, should take extra care to wash their hands and sanitise equipment before and after use. The Government is liaising with religious groups and others to this end.”
“It is important to remember that these measures seem drastic, but they are essential to protecting our family and friends who may be more vulnerable.”
Bus services will be restricted as from this Monday, bus numbers 5 and 10 from the Frontier to Market Place will continue as normal.
All routes will operate as normal until 9:30am, when they will stop, all routes will operate again from 3pm to 6pm.
People over 60 years of age will not be able to use the bus at any time.
This will be enforced by bus drivers who will check ID, the government said.
The Gibraltar Lottery has been suspended for 12 weeks, with this designed to increase social distancing, particularly amongst the elderly.
The idea behind the suspension is to avoid the formation of queues in public areas.
The draws which have been postponed will be fixed for future dates and the ticket shares already sold will remain valid for those draws.
The government added more information will be made available in due course.
The government has repeatedly checked the advice on whether the referendum should go ahead.
The Director of Public Health, Dr Sohail Bhatti, has advised that the Referendum on Abortion can be managed in a way that the risk to voters is kept to a minimum.
The government has assured that polling stations are well-ventilated areas and the voting process is fluid, with little time spent in close proximity to others.
“On this basis, the Referendum will go ahead as scheduled,” the government said.
Any lines that form at polling stations will be managed by the Royal Gibraltar Police to ensure a minimum of one metre distance between voters and hand sanitiser will be available.
“Importantly, voters must take their own pen or pencil with them,” the government said.
The Count staff and observers will be kept to fewer than 100.
Previous advice that schools should remain open still stands.
The government has confirmed schools will remain open, and is carefully considering this decision on a daily basis.
The government added the advice of Public Health experts is that closing schools would pose a considerably greater risk of the spread of infection than keeping them open does.
“This measure is specifically designed to prevent the spread of infection to the
elderly, as grandparents are likely to become the primary care givers of children with working parents in the event of a school closure,” the government said.
“Schools will not be proceeding with preparations for First Holy Communions and will be liaising with the Church authorities for these to be taken at a later date.”
“All available evidence shows that children experience very mild symptoms of coronavirus COVID-19.”
“We must all do our part to protect their grandparents, who will be affected worst.”
In order to stop the spread of infection via physical payment by exchange of cash or card and in order to avoid social contact in queues, all Government payment counters will be closed as from this Monday.
All payments will be made by bank transfer and those who do not have a bank account will be helped to set one up for this purpose. This does not apply to the Gibraltar Savings Bank.